Repeating Reagan's Disastrous Legacy in the Middle East
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan is remembered fondly among conservative quarters in Japan. The closest to him was Japan's ex-prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro who will be representing Japan at Reagan's funeral this week. Ever since his death, news reports have been streaming out in praise of Reagan's legacy as a leader who fought the evil Soviet empire and secured freedom and democracy for all. Japanese conservatives in particular have credited Reagan with consolidating the U.S.-Japan alliance and promoting peace and prosperity around the globe. Over the past weekend, prime minister Koizumi urged Japanese "to remember the historic achievements of president Reagan to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and to work for peace and prosperity." He then went on to characterize the relationship between Japan and the U.S. as "a driving force for resolving problems around the world." The foundation for which he claimed "was laid during president Reagan's era." (Audrey McAvoy, AP, June 6, 2004)
This is the attitude with which Koizumi and Bush are promoting the "Broader Middle East Initiative" at the G-8 summit in Savannah Georgia this week. Just as Reagan purported to be fighting for the free world in favor of democracy and prosperity, Bush and Koizumi claim that their efforts in Iraq and in the greater Middle East are transforming the region by encouraging economic development and democracy. According to Condoleezza Rice, the G-8's final communiqué "will be a very strong affirmation of the need for reform and change in the Middle East (and) for the need for modernization." (Dan Chapman, Cox News Service, June 7, 2004) The so-called Broader Middle East Initiative plans to educate 100,000 children and adults and provide vocational training to 250,000 youths from Northern Africa to South Asia. Japan has taken the first step in promoting this plan by pledging $10 million dollars to this U.S. led effort. Unfortunately, most Arab countries are not upbeat about the program for a variety of reasons including cultural and political and they have vocalized this disapproval by refusing to attend the summit. Only Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Turkey will be in attendance. Nevertheless, as Rice professed, the initiative will be announced with fanfare as a Reaganesque project that will renovate the region into a bastion of democracy and hope.
Regrettably, far from promoting good, both Reagan and George W. Bush have served to worsen the economic, political and social situation in the Middle East and Japan's support for Bush's plans make it an accomplice in this disaster. Throughout his tenure Reagan worked to keep undemocratic monarchs in power in places such as Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia and supported a virtual dictator in Egypt. As the list of those attending the G-8 summit attests, most (with the possible exception of Turkey) fit this description as well. When George W. Bush refused to condemn Israeli settlements in a statement released earlier this year he was simply restating what Reagan did in the early 1980s when he reversed the U.S. position against Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories calling them "not illegal." Ironically, Sharon was involved in both administrations (Reagan and Bush) and served to convince the Americans to be more active in promoting Israel and getting militarily involved in the Middle East. Reagan and Bush have refused to condemn systematic abuses and massacres of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and instead have supported these atrocities by promoting a policy of "strategic cooperation" (NSC Memorandum 111, November 1981). It was also under Reagan that the U.S. began to take active military action in the Middle East, something Bush Jr. has promoted to the full. The result, for the most part, has been destruction and death. Reagan assisted the Israeli Defense Forces and the pro-Israel Phalange in Lebanon by sending troops and war ships to the region between 1982-83. Reagan also approved of the shooting down of Iranian aircraft in 1984. This was all justified as a campaign against "international terrorism" (sounds familiar). Reagan is also accountable for the Middle East arms race getting out of control. His administration provided massive amounts of military aid to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Most shockingly, Reagan refused to publicly condemn Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran for fear that it would disadvantage Iraq's chances of winning the war. Finally, Reagan was responsible for the Iran-Contra affair, which sent weapons to Iran (through Israel) to try and bring down the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Despite his administrations alleged "neutrality" in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Reagan did nothing to discourage the escalation of the brutal war and turned a blind eye to Chilean and French military sales to Iraq.
As you can see, Reagan's legacy in the Middle East did nothing to promote peace and democracy. To the contrary it served to fuel violence, even create it, and worsen the plight of the people in the Middle East. His main concerns were not democracy but securing U.S. interests in the region and simultaneously denying the U.S.S.R. of enjoying the same. The path that Koizumi and George Bush are taking is along the same lines. They seek to heighten their presence in the region and push out others including those of the Russian, the French and the Germans. After a brief period of hope, albeit superficial, the Middle East has been thrown into another blood bath. The Japanese and American heads of state claim to be putting forward an initiative that will transform the "Broader Middle East," through education and trade, this would be a noble objective if it were not sabotaged by the wars they have created and promoted. Japan spent approximately US$100 million funding the Palestinian Authority and U.N programs in the Occupied Territories between 1993-1999, the majority of which went to build schools, fund small businesses and build hospitals. Most of these no longer exist after nearly four years of hostility under Sharon. I suppose that we should not expect too much from two leaders who seek to emulate Ronald Reagan. Instead, we need to be weary.